Panchayati Raj in Jammu and Kashmir

Farooq Ahmad Bakloo
In all the three Panchayat Raj elections, 2001, 2011, and 2018 we constantly witnessed that these institutions were repeatedly affected by the conflict and political apathy. Due to this political apathy it was the only first-tier that was elected in all these three elections. Every time the Panchayat elections were delayed. Apart from this, from the survey of the literature, it is apparent that these institutions were more active in the Dogra period than in the post-Dogra period (1947- 2018).
The first political activity that was exercised in the Union territory was second tier B.D.C elections; along with this the vacant sarpanch and Panch seats were also elected through elections. In these elections, 3650 Sarpanches and 23660 Panch were elected with a 74.1 % turnout. After the triumph of these elections, then the block development elections and the district development council elections were also held. In these block development elections, 276 chairpersons were elected with a 98.3 % voter turnout.
At last, the district development council elections were conducted in eight phases. In this regard, 14 constituencies were created in every district of Jammu and Kashmir, in which the people elected their candidates. These district development council elections got a tremendous response, 51.7 % turnouts were recorded. The process elected 20 DDC Chairpersons and 20 Vice-Chairpersons; a total of 278 DDC members were also elected, thus completing the implementation of the 3-tier Panchayati Raj system in its total form. In this way, all the three tiers were elected for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.
Regarding the establishment of Panchayat Raj instantly after the modification of article 370, a wide perception among the people of Kashmir was generated about these Panchayat elections that it was the crisis management and an apparatus to divert the attention of the people from the episode that were taking place on 5 August 2019.
To make the Panchayat Raj operational at the grassroots level, 27 subjects were assigned to these institutions after the amendment of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989. To make these Panchayati Raj institutions vibrant and financially powerful 1727.50 crores have been devolved under the central flagship programmes like MGNREGA, midday meal, and ICDS. Apart from this, the plan allocation for Panchayats has doubled from Rs.5136 crore in 2020-21 to Rs.12600 crore in 2021-22. Besides, an insurance cover of Rs.25 lakh has also been provisioned for the elected representatives of all the panchayats. To address the issue of workforce 1889 Panchayat Accounts Assistants and 317 secretaries were recruited through the written test. For the Panchayat buildings, 195 Panchayat houses were taken up with the completion of 36, so far. Similarly, about 160 panchayat ghars have been taken up for renovation, of which, 105 have been completed. Besides, 1131 panchayats have been taken up for the establishment of the solar system. Moreover, 3973 panchayats have been provided funds for the procurement of computers with accessories according to media reports.
Despite all these positive efforts, the L.G administration failed to protect the lives of the elected panchayat representatives. Even in Union territory, some Panchayat Representatives lost their lives to the bullets of the unknown gunman. To prevent this, the administration put the sarpanches and some Panchs in the hotels. Instead of keeping them in hotels, the administration should ensure their movement, and they can meet those people. During the field visit, some Panchayat elected members told that this is done to earn profit from the kitchen, and other expenses used for these detained Panchayat representatives. They also said it is the trade to earn money. Further, they said if there is a threat then why all were not detained, it is only a few who are detained. In district Anantnag many elected representatives, most of them Sarpanchs , were kept in the hotels. This is not the way to protect the lives of elected representatives; instead, the administration should ensure their movement and protect their lives by providing the required security.
Hence, again, it is the conflict that negatively impacts the Panchayati Raj institutions at the ground level. Besides, there were many Panchayat Halqus that have no adequate Panchayat body, many panchayat wards do not have Panchayat representative, in this context the administration should notify these types of Panchayat wards and conduct the election on them.
Jammu and Kashmir are very different places as compared to the other states. In the post-Dogra period, these institutions were significantly affected by political disorder, poor governance, and lack of political will. Among all these mentioned factors, the conflict was the main that influenced institutionalization of Panchayati Raj institutions very badly.
Here these panchayat Raj institutions have two types of challenges; one is the common challenge that is associated with infrastructure and their empowerment. Another challenge which is a specific challenge is the challenge cultivated by the conflict, and it is much more dangerous than the common challenge. Hence, the administration should work for both; if one of these challenges is left, this will negatively impact the local Panchayat Raj system of the erstwhile state.
The administration should work on the accountability of the Panchayat Raj institutions at the grassroots level. For this, there is a need to implement the Panchayat Raj ombudsman Act 2014 in letter and spirit. Establish the accountability committee of educated youth at every panchayat will act as the watchdog and will help to maintain the accountability at the grassroots level. Instead of holding the panchayat Raj representatives in the hotels, the administration should ensure their free movement and protect their lives as well. Furthermore, there is a need to speed up more capacity building for the elected representatives. And along with this spread awareness programmes about the significance of Panchayati Raj among the people. For those Panchayat Halqas that lack a full Panchayat body, the administration should notify them and hold elections on these empty seats. Furthermore, the administration should activate and empower the local Adalat system. This will reduce the burden on the courts and in this way; it will foster justice for the needy people.